The Best Winter Day Trips from Chicago for Families

TIme to get out of the city and make some snow angels. Glacial Park photo courtesy of McHenry County Conservation
TIme to get out of the city and make some snow angels. Glacial Park photo courtesy of McHenry County Conservation
1/26/24 - By Lauren LaRoche

These day trips from Chicago are perfect for that post-holiday stretch when you need to get the kids out of the house. Because winter in Chicago can feel long... really long. A change of scene can be just the thing!

We've rounded up day trip options that are great whether you're up for a short drive or want to take a full day to explore. From museums to outdoor snow fun and nearby states to visit, these are the best winter day trips from Chicago to take with kids.

For more travel guides and winter activities, be sure to explore our Chicago Family Travel Guide. Looking to stay local? Check out our winter activities guide for kids here


Field Museum photo by aquiamigo via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Indoor Fun Day Trips in Chicago

1. Shedd Aquarium – Chicago

Not all animals hibernate just because it’s winter. There are plenty of cold-weather animals who love the cooler temps you don't see as often at a zoo in the summer months. Many zoos also have indoor and outdoor sections that are great for warming up and taking a break from the cold. The Shedd Aquarium, for example, is almost all indoors so you can explore the oceans, seas, Great Lakes, and more regardless of how cold it is outside. For our list of favorite zoos and aquariums, check out this list here

2. Visit the Field Museum- Chicago

There is something for everyone at the Field Museum. From fossils to dinosaurs and precious gems, there is so much to do and explore here with kids. Kids will especially love exploring ancient Egypt, and the Underground Adventure. 

3. The Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago

From the Idea Station to the water play, kids will love this hands-on museum experience. There is so much to see for kids of all ages. Kids will love learning the science behind some of their favorite machines and everyday items. The weather and transportation exhibits are also hits with the younger crowd. 

4. Chicago Children's Museum - Chicago

The Chicago Children's Museum is located inside Navy Pier. While you could spend an entire day at Navy Pier exploring, the Chicago Children's Museum is definetly where you'll want to spend a lot of your time. This space is amazing for kids to get some energy out, play, explore, learn, and have a downtown adventure day. 

5. Kohl Children's Museum - Glenview 

The Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview is a ton of fun for little ones. There's an interactive play cafe, grocery store, doctor, bookstore, and more. Kids can pretend play for hours at all the different exhibits and plays paces. Glenview is a short drive north of the city and makes a great daytrip from downtown or the surrounding suburbs. 

Under 2-Hour Drive Day Trips from Chicago

6. Visit Milwaukee Zoo – Milwaukee, WI

Depending on where you live, the Wisconsin border may only be a short drive away. While you may not want to go to an outdoor zoo everyday in the winter, there are those perfect winter days when the sun is out and temperatures are mild that make for an amazing day outdoors. For a great day outside no matter the weather, check out the Milwaukee Zoo. In addition to the zoo, there are several day trips you can take to southern Wisconsin that are great to explore in the winter, so check out our favorite things to do in Milwaukee with kids for some inspiration.

7. Winter Walks in Lake Geneva – Lake Geneva, WI

If you’re looking for an easy day trip with a chance to get out and walk, read more about exploring the shore path of Lake Geneva here. While you can walk along the entire 26 miles of shoreline, there are more kid-friendly distances starting from the city centers. You can start in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, or Fontana and find a paved mile of pathway from each. There are also a ton of fun shops and restuarnts along the way. 

Visit the red pandas during Winter Days. photo courtesy of the Potowatomi Zoo

8. Albanese Candy Factory – Merrillville, IN

Visit the Albanese Candy Factory in Merrillville is just 40 miles from downtown Chicago, and what child can resist a day at the candy factory?

9. Potawatomi Zoo – Merrillville, IN

Visit the Potawatomi Zoo for one of its' Winter Days: During the off-season, admission is discounted and a great, quiet time to see favorite animals and get some fresh air!

Outdoor Fun Day Trips Near Chicago

10. Blackwell Forest Preserve Mount Hoy — Warrenville, IL

The Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville sports more than 1,300 acres of natural beauty and is one of the most spectacular spots for winter activities near Chicago, and being nearby makes it one of our top picks. From Illinois to Michigan and Wisconsin, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite snow tubing spots within a short drive from Chicago.

11. Sledding at Techny Park and Field - Northbrook, IL

Techny Park features a 28-foot hill with stairs to make getting your sled up to the top easier. There are also lights for evening sledding and a warming house. The park also includes a prairie landscape with trails and a playground. If you want to hit up a fun sledding hill outside your local neighborhood, our list of the best spots includes everywhere from the city to the suburbs. Grab your gear and hit the road!

12. Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park - Chicago

Ice skating is always a fun activity for the entire family. For a fun day trip into the city to ice skate, check out the ribbon at Maggie Daley Park. You can skate on the elevated ribbon taking in the amazing views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan. For more skate rinks, whether a seasoned pro or a first-timer, check out our list for some of the best ice skating in Chicago and the nearby area. Every rink on this list is outdoors; many offer skate rentals and treats to refuel after your skate. 

13. Skiing or Snow Boarding at Viilla Oliviia- Bartlett

Villa Olivia is a great place to start skiing or to go for a quick day trip. It's only located about an hour from Chicago and it's small size make it great for beginners. For more great options, Chicagoland and Wisconsin offer great places to ski for the day without an overnight stay. Whether there are snowboarding pros in your home or it's your first time as a family, there are different levels of skiing and snowboarding for everyone in the family. Opt to book classes for kids, cruise down the easy bunny hills, or brave the more challenging runs for older kids and adults. Check out our full list here

14. Visit the Ice Castles - Lake Geneva, Wi

The Ice Castles are coming to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in 2024. Located less than two hours from Chicago, the Ice Castles is the perfect weekend day trip. Explore caverns, tunnels, slides, and more made entirely of ice. Nearby Lake Geneva offers quaint shops, coffee, ice cream, bakeries, and restaurants to check out before or after your visit to the castles. 

15. Go on a Winter Hike iin Cantigny Park - Wheaton, IL

Who says hiking is only for the summer or fall? Cantigny Park in Wheaton offers great kid-friendly trails to explore on a sunny winter day. You will also get some history lessons in as you explore army tanks that the kids can climb on. Winter is a great time to get out and explore nature’s magic. For even more hiiking options, we've curated a list of some of the best places to hike with kids near Chicago. Many of these hikes are a short drive away and perfect for a little snow play or a sunny day when the temperature is mild. Wear good boots with a grip and put the kids in snow pants and gloves because a hike is always a little more fun when a snowball fight ensues. 


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